Welcome to The Fix’s weekly news digest! Every week, we bring you important news stories from the world of media – and try to put them in a wider context.
“The Pegasus Project”, an investigation by numerous news outlets into authoritarian regimes surveilling activists and journalists, brings new revelations as The Guardian reported this week on the case of Hungarian journalist Dániel Németh.
A photojournalist who has reported on the “luxury lifestyle of Hungary’s ruling elite”, including billionaire businessman and prime minister Viktor Orbán’s childhood friend Lőrinc Mészáros, Németh found his phone infected by NSO Group’s Pegasus surveillance software.
As The Guardian notes, the forensic analysis doesn’t show whether the Hungarian authorities were implicated in hacking Németh’s phone, but Orbán’s government is facing criticism from the European Union for its alleged use of the Pegasus spying software.
At the end of last week, Russia held its parliamentary election, marking a culmination of the government’s months-long crackdown on the independent press that included designating over 30 media outlets and individual reporters as “foreign agents.”
Predictably, President Putin’s party “United Russia” won the election, gaining a constitutional two-thirds majority in the lower house, in the election described by observers and international media as “rigged” and “not conducive to free or fair”. (An analyst quoted by The Economist and other outlets estimates almost 14 million votes cast for “United Russia” as “anomalous” and likely falsified).
During the election itself, media freedom was stifled through various ways, most notably by Apple and Google being forced to remove the “Smart Voting” election app developed by jailed opposition leader Alexey Navalny from their app stores, reportedly after threats of criminal prosecution against the two companies’ individual employees .
Facebook has been under heat from recent media investigations, including the “Facebook Files” project by The Wall Street Journal. The outlet has gained access to a trove of the company’s internal documents showing various problems with the platform Facebook has researched but hasn’t shared with the public.
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A report by The New York Times shows Facebook has experimented with algorithm changes to show more positive posts about Facebook. According to the authors, the aim of this internal effort has been “to use Facebook’s News Feed, the site’s most important digital real estate, to show people positive stories about the social network.”
On Thursday, Facebook made an effort towards increasing transparency by publishing a guideline on News Feed content distribution. The guide lists various types of content Facebook algorithm demotes, from clickbait links to “posts from broadly untrusted news publishers.” As The Verge notes, “Facebook has mostly confirmed [the information listed] in various reports over the years but is just now publishing [it] for the first time in one place.”
On Tuesday, The Washington Post launched a digital ad network that will allow marketers to buy ads in real-time. The network is part of the Zeus Prime product, which the company launched two years ago.
As Axios notes, “the self-service ad network will be a critical opportunity for The Post to bring in ad dollars from clients that want to respond to the news cycle and real-time events,” and the network will be available to other publishing partners as well.
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